The Justice Department sued Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn on Tuesday to force him to register as a foreign agent because of lobbying work he says he did at the behest of the Chinese government during the Trump administration.
The department said it had repeatedly advised Wynn over the last four years to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, and is now suing because Wynn refused to do so.
Although the Justice Department has stepped up its efforts to criminally prosecute people who fail to register as foreign agents, officials described this case as the first such lawsuit in more than three decades.
“When a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence political decisions in the United States, FARA gives the American people the right to know,” the assistant prosecutor said. Gen. Matthew Olsen, head of the department’s homeland security division, in a statement.
Department spokesmen did not immediately comment on why the department had filed a lawsuit instead of criminal charges.
Wynn’s attorneys said Tuesday they would contest the lawsuit.
“Steve Wynn never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and was not required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” said a statement from attorneys Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig. “We respectfully disagree with the Justice Department’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to trying our case in court.”
The complaint alleges that Wynn, who resigned from his company, Wynn Resorts, in 2018 after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, pressured then-President Trump and members of his administration for several months in 2017 to remove the a Chinese. citizen who had been accused of corruption in China and was seeking political asylum in the United States. Efforts to get him out of the US were ultimately unsuccessful.
It says the lobbying effort was conducted on behalf of top Chinese government officials, including Sin Lijun, the then deputy minister at the Ministry of Public Security, and included conversations over dinner with Trump and over the phone.
The complaint says Wynn was motivated to protect his business interests in China. At the time, his company owned and operated casinos in the Chinese territory of Macau. The Macau government had restricted the number of gaming tables and machines that could operate at Wynn’s casino, the complaint alleges, and was scheduled to renegotiate licenses to operate casinos in 2019.
FARA, enacted in 1938 to expose Nazi propaganda in the United States, requires individuals to report to the Department of Justice when they advocate, lobby, or conduct public relations work in the United States on behalf of a foreign government or political entity.
The complaint alleges that Wynn engaged in the lobbying effort of Elliott Broidy, a prominent fundraiser for Trump and the GOP who pleaded guilty in 2020 in an illicit lobbying campaign aimed at getting the Trump administration to drop an investigation into multi-million looting of a Malaysian state-owned investment fund and for his role in a covert lobbying effort seeking to arrange the return of a Chinese dissident living in the US. Broidy was later pardoned by Trump.
Prosecutors do not refer to the dissident by name, but he matches Guo Wengui’s description. Guo left China in 2014 during an anti-corruption campaign led by President Xi Jinping that netted people close to Guo, including a top intelligence official. Chinese authorities have charged Guo with rape, kidnapping, bribery and other crimes and have sought the return of the self-exiled tycoon.